New rocket propulsion for Europe

By developing liquid oxygen (LOX)/methane technology, Europe is meeting the global requirements of the launcher market, as this fuel combination has huge potential for the development of cost-effective and reusable high-thrust rocket engines. The use of methane as rocket fuel has been investigated for decades, but LOX/methane propulsion has never been used in a launcher thus far.

As part of the Prometheus programme, ArianeGroup is now developing a LOX/methane demonstrator engine with 100 t thrust, based on a concept by the French national space agency (CNES). In order to make this new engine cost-effective, new production processes are also being used, such as 3D printing. Since 2016, the programme has been part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ‘Future Launchers Preparatory Programme’. The aim of the programme is to test the fnished engine under representative conditions on the P5 test rig at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen from the end of 2020. Following the successful test of a 30 t thrust chamber on the P3 component test rig in collaboration with ArianeGroup in 2016, this will be the second full-scale test of LOX/methane hardware on a large DLR test rig. In order to guarantee the success of these tests, DLR engineers are already preparing for the necessary conversion of the P5 test rig. DLR Lampoldshausen has been conducting its own LOX/methane research since 2006. Furthermore, DLR has been collaborating with CNES since 2017 in order to support ArianeGroup’s development of the Prometheus engine with accompanying research projects. It is also drawing on the experience gained from LUMEN, the DLR internal development project that began in 2016 with the aim of developing its own LOX/methane demonstrator in the 3 t thrust class.

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Philipp Altenhöfer · E-Mail: philipp.altenhoefer@dlr.de · DLR.de/en